The Museum of History and Industry relocated to South Lake Union this year, taking over the space previously held by the Center for Wooden Boats. I hadn’t been inside the original MOHAI site in years; I admit I was one of those people who mainly frequented their parking lot to go walk the adjacent wetland. I was curious to see if it was worth returning.
This new space is a delight. When you walk in, you enter a multi-story atrium, with a biplane and hydroplane hanging from the ceiling and the pink toed tow truck that took over Mercer for most of my memory sitting front and center. You can see glimpses into exhibits that start on the second floor, with silk dresses, cars, and cookbooks lining the walls. There are small movie theatres tucked into nooks. A Macklemore interview. A room devoted to prohibition, with a collection of modern beer bottles and a small still.
As someone who studied museum science, I love the level of interactivity. (Jeff Bezos is one of the major founders, so this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.) There’s a tower with touchscreens that play audio diaries of Seattleites from the past and present. A moving three-dimensional map of our waterways demonstrating how dams and levees have shaped our lakes and rivers at the push of a button. Blank post-it notes encouraging writing down ideas and thinking about how others would solve projects.
Something I appreciated was the acknowledgement of how racism and gender roles have played a part in Seattle’s history. There are permanent exhibits, with nods to the 1860s railroad expansion and WWII and post-war sentiments, and a visiting gallery with poetry and video of a classroom that devoted time to discussing racism and gender in the past and present. It may not be something everyone wants to see in a museum, but it’s part of our history.
MOHAI’s new location has one serious benefit: it allowed them to expand. As I walked along the second floor, a curator mentioned that the full-sized geisha mannequin in dress kimono was given as a gift but never displayed at the original location. She has a full display now, visible from the front entryway. Many of the exhibits have similar histories, and are finally visible to the public.
It feels like the museum moved from college dorm to a real home, let in tons of fresh air, and asked us to come by for the housewarming. It’s time to pay a visit.
860 Terry Ave N.
Seattle, WA 98109